Here, There, Everywhere
My first big job as PCVL was to drop in on the new education group and see how they’re doing in their new homes. My boss, Ann, had already rolled around the entire country and done “introductory visits” with everyone—where she held meetings with the volunteers and their community members and gave them a VERY quick rundown of everyone’s responsibilities during the first few months. The meetings were fast, and she traveled in a Peace Corps SUV. My visits were neither fast nor in private vehicle. I spent the last month visiting 20 different communities around the country, getting there on whatever conveyance was the least inconvenient in the moment. It was an adventure.
I wrote a bit about transportation in one of my very first posts, back when I was still in training in the capital. Guaguas and carros are fun, but transportation out in the campos is a whole other ball game. Let’s start off with the word “guagua.” For most of my service—and still today—when I think of that word I imagine the typical 40-something seat bus that looks like a loaf of bread made of metal and glass traveling at breakneck speeds. (Fun fact: The Mandarin word for “van” literally translates to “bread car”. The more you know!) But in the campo, pretty much anything can be a guagua. A bright yellow Caribe Tours bus that operates on a schedule, uses paper tickets, and has reclining seats and a bathroom? Guagua. A huge, blocky city bus that travels from the end of the road on the Haitian border all the way to the capital and a crawl? Guagua. Rusted, busted, doors-falling-off van that somehow still climbs mountains, even if it has to cough out noxious black exhaust to do so? Guagua. A pickup truck with holes in the bed and on which your traveling companions are just as often animals as humans? Guagua. After so many different experiences, I no longer have a set image that jumps to mind when I hear “guagua”.
And then there are motorcycles. Oh, motores. How I love them. They can take you anywhere you need to go…but for a price. They’re always more expensive than any other transportation available. When I was out in the province of Elías Piña, I had to get from one campo along the highway to another one set waaaaaay back, far from everything. The only way to go was on a motorcycle, and almost every driver I talked to about taking me was terrified of the road to get there. They said t was the worst road they had ever been on, and dangerous for people who didn’t know how to drive on it. I finally found someone who would take me, and after about a half hour (they said it would take an hour) on a pretty bad road I made it to the next community on my visit list. (For the record, I’ve seen worse roads.)
Anyway, learning about and expounding upon the different types of transportation in the campo was not the point of this adventure. The real purpose was to check in on the 21 new education volunteers who are settling into their sites! They got there in the middle of May, and have been spending their time getting to know their communities, finding people they can work with, and completing what we call a Community and Sector Assessment (CASA—cute, right? Peace Corps loves its acronyms.). They go around interviewing people about what they think of the community, with the end goal being to understand the current state of the site and what kind of projects they can work on as volunteers in the future.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of challenges and difficulties that can present themselves during this adjustment period. That’s where I come in! I got to spend more time than Ann could at the visits—a few hours, usually. That gave me a lot of time to talk with each volunteer, walk around their communities, and meet their people. We talked about the good, the bad, the ugly—volunteer support is a pretty great part of this job. We have been clustering volunteers close together in a few strategic places around the country, so I got to see lots of different places. Some sites are within an hour of the capital, and others are a 7-hour (at least) trip that puts you in sight of Haiti. Some sites are urban, with buildings and people almost on top of each other; other sites are rural, with cows and goats and mountain vistas and fields of crops stretching out in all directions. It was fascinating to see the variety in the volunteer experience, especially while recalling my first three months in Baní. Everyone has such a unique experience, and I got to peek into 21 of those experiences. At the end of it I was exhausted (I saved the farthest destination for last), but thankful for the opportunity to travel and get to know new places!